Basic Info
  • Nonfiction
  • Essay
  • Memoir
  • Multi-Genre/Genre-Bender

Stories, plots, themes, characters, scenes, sentences, even single words emerge from many sources—from the mind, from memory, from family and friends, from experience lived and imagined. They also emerge from deep within—a place with no physical boundaries, a place where the essence of you, as a writer, resides. Call it your inner self, your soul, your quintessence. It’s where you get in touch with your Writerly Self. Rather than seek what’s in your mind, reflective writing seeks what’s within you but may not be immediately apparent to you. In the beginning, you may not know what you’re going to write about. So first you reflect; then you write based on what emerges from that reflection. Reflection is distinct from thinking. Reflective writing is a learned technique that connects us to a place deep within us. In this class, we’ll discuss, reflect, write, discuss again. Author Pat Schneider says of this technique, “May you hear in your own writing—the strangeness, the surprise of mysteries—the presence of ancestors, spirits—buried in the cells of your body.” Please plan to send me a sample of your writing (200 words maximum) before we meet in Iowa City.

Mary Kay Shanley


Mary Kay Shanley has ten books that cross multiple genres, tapping into her skills as storyteller, essayist, historian and journalist. Her memoir, The Women Who Had Me, will be out sometime. The manuscript originally centered on her adoption, but ultimately came to also include stories from those unmarried women who, in decades past, were coerced into giving up their babies for adoption. An Iowa Author of the Year, she directs writers’ groups, co-sponsors spiritual/reflective writing workshops, is a Humanities Iowa speaker and has taught at the Iowa Correctional Institution for Women—a life-changing experience. This is her 18th year teaching with the Festival. She loves being part of the Festival as much as she loves biking and gardening in good weather.